21st Sunday After Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Pastor Tom Schulz
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Those are the words of Amos. He was from a town in Judah, south of Jerusalem. Yet God called him to cross the border into Israel and preach there.
His message was for a rebellious nation. At this time Israel was feeling very smug. Their economy was going well. There was peace in the land. Many people were well off. But they had left the true God. They had put their eternal future in jeopardy.
So Amos, a humble shepherd, delivers God’s message to them. It was not anything Israel wanted to hear, but it was what they needed to hear. So today, listen as we see
HOW THE LORD ADDRESSES A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE
I. He starts with a threat. Why the threat? They were impenitent people.
Let’s review history. After King Solomon died, his kingdom broke into two parts. The ten tribes in the north were called Israel. The two tribes in the south were called Judah. The first king of Israel did not want his people going to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. So he set up two places for worship, one in the far north and one at Bethel near the border with Judah. These were the places to worship God. But in each place he erected golden calves as worship images. To no one’s surprise, the nation of Israel soon began to practice idolatry.
So what happened? In Israel there were no kings who confessed the true faith. Eventually, there were very few believers in the true God either. At the time of Elijah there were only 7000 faithful people in the northern kingdom.
That lack of faith showed in their behavior. Amos lists their predominant sins. There was a general miscarriage of justice. “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” The whole judicial system was crooked. The poor people were being treated very badly. “You levy a straw tax on the poor, and impose a tax on their grain.” Anyone who spoke up in protest or called for reform was harassed. “There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in the court and detest the one who tells the truth.”
So the message of God through Amos was not a pleasant message. “I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.” They couldn’t take refuge in their wealth either. For the Lord said, “Though you have built stone mansions you will not live in them. Though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.” Their wealth and luxury would disappear and their harvests would go to someone else.
Forty years after Amos prophesied, it happened just as he had said. “The Lord will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire. It will devour them.” God carried out his threat. The Assyrian army swept into the northern kingdom and utterly destroyed it. The people were scattered throughout the Assyrian empire.
Do we see what God did? Do we recognize the threat? Our nation is losing its Christian character. As a nation, we are proud of our wealth and our power. But is that wealth and power being misused? We have to admit that the poor and the voiceless are losing out. The wealthy seek pleasure, and look for the next thrill. But so often, they have no regard for those who are struggling, living paycheck to paycheck.
Worst of all, so much of what people hold as precious has no lasting value. Yet people chase these things anyway. This is idolatry. We are not immune from falling into the same sin. We are not immune from making idols out of the things money can buy or out of the ideas that so many think are important.
A day of settling accounts is coming. As our text says, “I know your offenses and how great your sins.” Nothing is hidden from the Lord. That is why the words of our Lord Jesus apply here: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” We who confess our faith in Jesus are still sinners who have fallen far short of God’s glory. We need to take these warnings God seriously. We need to live in daily repentance over our sins.
Amos delivered a threat to Israel, God’s threat. But he also delivered hope, God’s hope. Our God is a merciful God who does not take pleasure in sending people to hell. So how do you address a rebellious people once they have heard the threat?
II. You speak a plea to them.
Through Amos, God spoke to Israel in the hope they would repent and return to him. His plea was simple. “Seek good, not evil. Hate evil, love good.” This was a call to repentance for a rebellious nation. He was calling to them to forsake their false gods and return to the true God. He was calling them to live in true faith, follow God’s Word and living in obedience to his Law.
God follows up that plea with a promise. If they repented of their sins and returned to him in faith, “Then the Lord God will be with you.” And when they amended their sinful ways by no longer abusing the poor and by maintaining justice in the courts, then God says, “Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”
God keeps his promises. The fact that Israel was destroyed tells us that the people did not listen to God’s plea, and did not change their sinful ways. How sad.
Today, he is pleading with us. Seek what is good, not what is evil. I pray we are willing to do that, not with empty lip service but with whole hearted faith. If we are going to heed the plea of our God, we will have to take the Word of God to heart. God is pleading with us to act on the basis of our faith in Christ Jesus. God is pleading with us to hate what is evil and love what is good. God is pleading with us to amend our sinful ways and not return to them. God is pleading with us to do what is correct according to his Word, not what is trendy or popular according to our culture.
If we are going to do that, we need to be bold people, not prudent people. What does it mean to be prudent? Amos defines it here. “The prudent keep quiet at such times, because the times are evil.” This is our natural tendency. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t invite trouble. Apparently that’s what the 7000 remaining believers were doing in Israel - not protesting, keeping their mouths shut.
This is the safe way to live. But it is not going to help anyone learn about the way to heaven. Now is the time to speak up for the truth of God’s Word. Now is the time to point out wrong and defend what is right. Now is the time to watch out for those who can’t speak for themselves.
The Lord God will have mercy on his people. We know that because he has done it before. Paul reminds us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He sent Jesus to save us. Because of that mercy, we are assured that “the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” And we have this promise: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
The Lord God keeps his promises. Those who trust in Jesus as our crucified and risen Lord and Savior, have eternal life in heaven. We know that and believe it. Now we want to hold out the promises of God to those who still don’t know. After all, the only thing that will reform our society and lead it to change its sinful ways, is the good news of Christ Jesus, our Savior. Social programs are good. But what really changes behavior is the Gospel which leads people to look in hope to the cross and the empty tomb. The good news leads people to rejoice in God’s love and to live in thankful obedience.
This is the mercy of our Lord. By his grace and through faith in Jesus, we have been changed. We live in joy and peace with God. May we daily turn aside from rebellion and turn back to our Savior God in faith. Amen.